More than 1,000 British Columbians lost to toxic illicit drugs in first half of 2021

More than 1,000 British Columbians lost to toxic illicit drugs in first half of 2021
Watch A whole generation of British Columbians are dying in record numbers due to drug toxicity. Globally, academics and advocates say safe supply is the answer, but in B.C. or Canada, that isn't happening.

The government has announced that at least 1,011 British Columbians have lost their lives between January and June 2021 due to suspected illicit drug toxicity.

“This crisis, is devastating,” said Jeremy Kalicum, fighting back tears at a safe supply rally in Vancouver outside Health Minister Adrian Dix’s constituency’s office.

The BC Coroners Service outlining that in June, 159 people died as a result of drug overdoses, which marks the ninth consecutive month that at least 150 British Columbians died from a toxic drug supply.

Factoring in the deaths from June 2021, B.C. says that the number of lives lost between January and June marks the highest total recorded in the first six months of a calendar year.

The BC Coroners Service says that drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in B.C. for those aged 19 to 39.

“The deaths of more than 1,000 British Columbians in the first six months of 2021 is a tragic reminder that the toxic illicit drug supply remains a significant ongoing threat to public health and safety in communities throughout our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service.

READ MORE: B.C. introduces new prescribed safer drug supply policy, a Canadian first

Lapointe stresses that the data released today for the month of June continues to highlight the need for a wide-scale response to this ongoing issue. Lapointe is urging that the government remove barriers to safe supply, ensure timely access to evidence-based affordable treatment and provide those experiencing problematic substance use with compassionate and viable options to reduce risks and save lives.

Drugs are becoming increasingly toxic in British Columbia as well, according to the coroners service.

Post-mortem testing shows that fentanyl continues to be the substance involved in most drug-toxicity deaths – 85% in the first six months of 2021. The data also shows that illicit substances are driving this health crisis and prescribed safe supply is not playing a role in drug toxicity deaths.

“Today is International Overdose Awareness Day; a day in which we remember and mourn the family members, friends and neighbours we’ve lost to drug toxicity,” Lapointe said. “To the thousands of B.C. families grieving the loss of a beloved family member, I extend my heartfelt condolences and my hope that the stories you’ve shared will continue to influence positive change. Those who died mattered and their loss is felt deeply, and we must continue to urge those in positions of influence across our province and the country to move to urgently implement measures to prevent more unnecessary suffering and death.”

The number of overdose deaths is mostly men as 80 per cent of those who have died in 2021 being male, while 71 per cent have been between the ages of 30 and 59.

Overall, the death rate in B.C. is 39 deaths per 100,000 individuals, with Vancouver Coastal Health (46 deaths per 100,000 individuals) and Northern Health (45 per 100,000) showing the highest rates based on health authority.

Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health (342 and 283 deaths) make up 62 per cent of all such deaths during this period.

Deaths due to illicit drug toxicity remain the leading cause of unnatural death in BC as well.

Graham CoxGraham Cox
Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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